Virtual Field Trips as the Focus of the Early Years Curriculum

Virtual Field Trips as the Focus of the Early Years Curriculum

Jessica A. Manzone, Sandra N. Kaplan
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-6684-7468-6.ch019
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The concept and implementation of field trips have been a source of motivation and experiential learning for students of all ages. Field trips served as a hallmark feature of early childhood curriculum, and a way for young learners to access content across all topics and subjects. Traditionally, a field trip, whether in-person or virtual, has been considered a support to a lesson or unit of study. The contemporary emphasis on remote learning has created an opportunity for virtual field trips to become the source rather than a feature of a curriculum for young learners. This chapter will address (1) the educational implications of virtual field trips, (2) virtual field trips as a dominant feature in early childhood curriculum, and (3) the use of virtual field trips as a method of providing equity and access for all learners. Questions related to why virtual field trips are significant and how early childhood curriculum can be redesigned around virtual trips are addressed.
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On March 15, 2020, classroom teachers across the country packed everything they could carry in a box and closed the door to their “in-person” classrooms. The following Monday, with few resources and even less direction, they opened their laptops and bravely logged on to their remote learning environments. They welcomed students and their families to Zoom, WebEx, Google Teams, and other virtual platforms with a “make it work” attitude, an innovative mindset, and the solid pedagogical practices they have spent their professional careers developing.

As the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent quarantine extended the need for remote learning to the equivalent (in many cases) to multiple school years, numerous issues and problems of practice related to infrastructure and services were exposed. Most notably among these were infrastructure factors including a lack of access to the internet or technology equipment, such as laptops or tablets (Ali & Herrera, 2020). Impacts to services, especially for the most vulnerable student populations, include reduced or diminished access to aides, therapists, tutors, and coaches (Ali & Herrera, 2020). Wraparound services and systems of support provided by the school district staff and partners were no longer available in a virtual context because of their dependency on a school site location. One of the major struggles and problems of practice teachers faced (and continue to face) in the transition from in-person to remote learning is the building and sustaining of student interest and participation in an online environment (2020). With the above variables typically out of the purview and control of mainstream classroom teachers, the importance of transferring sound pedagogical strategies to a remote learning environment that engages and excites all learners cannot be overstated.

According to Wu (2016), how educators structure a virtual learning environment impacts the degree to which students engage in the learning experience. Any framework or pedagogical model for remote learning should take into account the intersection between content delivery, assessment, and engagement (Green, 2020). Content focuses on the subject matter and the resources provided to meet both the needs of the learners and the objectives of the learning experience (Green, 2020). Assessment addresses the formative and summative opportunities students have to demonstrate knowledge. Finally, engagement is defined as the amount of energy students devote to the learning experience and to their overall sense of joy as a learner (Beymer & Thomson, 2015; Shan & Cheng, 2019). This chapter highlights how the integration of virtual field trips into early childhood curriculum addresses the non-negotiable pedagogical elements (content, assessment, and engagement) of effective distance education.

Typically, early childhood education describes students in preschool through Transition Kindergarten (TK), and elementary education as students in Kindergarten through sixth grade (California Department of Education, 2020). This chapter is written for early childhood educators as well as elementary educators teaching in the primary grades (K-3). Organized into three parts, the chapter (a) defines virtual field trips, (b) juxtaposes the use of virtual field trips with key features of early childhood curriculum, and (c) provides a concrete template and tangible resources for purposefully integrating virtual field trips into a unit of study. The authors hope this chapter stimulates teachers' creativity and confidence in using virtual field trips as a pedagogical framework for developing engaging curriculum in a virtual environment. The remainder of the chapter provides a step-by-step approach to the when, how, and why of integrating virtual field trips into the remote early childhood curriculum.

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